We recently caught up with Shaun Hutson, bestselling author of Spawn, Erebus, Relics and Deathday. Nicknamed ‘The Godfather of Gore’ and ‘Shakespeare of Gore’, Shaun has since produced a number of dark and urban thrillers.
What attracted you to writing horror – did a particular author influence you?
I’d always loved watching horror films and reading horror stories when I was a kid so I suppose it was inevitable I’d start writing it when I wanted to write but I was never influenced by other authors, my influences were always cinematic. I spent most of my formative years in a darkened cinema and I think that influenced the way I write more than anything. Everything that I learned about pacing, tension, atmosphere and all that, I learned from watching films. I grew up on a diet of horror films when I was a kid (my mum used to let me stay up late on a Friday night to watch them…irresponsible parenting I suppose but what the hell…). Hammer films particularly were a favourite of mine and I think that feeling of grand Gothic has always permeated my stuff whether it’s classic horror or not (sorry, did that sound pretentious? If it did, just ignore it…) I did read the Pan Books of Horror Stories when I was young (11 or 12) and then moved onto The Exorcist and James Herbert in my teens and looking back there are probably some nods in the direction of the sadly departed James Herbert and also to William Peter Blatty but I wasn’t aware of it at the time. Nowadays I don’t even read! Not proud of that but there you go…
I’d written a novel called Deathday (published about 5 years later) and the agent I was with at the time liked the scene with the giant slug and suggested I write an entire novel about slugs, which I must admit I thought was pretty dumb…but, with the benefit of hindsight he was right and I was a twat because when I started to do the research I realized there was a lot of material there. And they are disgusting bloody things so people had that built in aversion already so I just played on that in the book, I suppose. I remember reading a short story when I was very young called “The Snail Watcher” (can’t actually remember the author) so it might have been an unconscious nod to that as well…
What did you think of Slugs’ movie adaptation?
The film isn’t great, I think we’d all agree on that, but it’s not the worst film I’ve ever seen in my life. Honest. There are far worse films with far bigger budgets foisted on the public every week! I remember seeing it at a film festival; the organisers had got hold of a print especially and it was such a thrill seeing my name come up on the big screen I think I almost forgave the film company for fucking up the book! The thing is, every author knows that when they sell film rights, what turns up on screen is going to bear little or no resemblance to what they wrote, and you have to just accept that. To be honest, if Hollywood came to me and offered me an obscene amount of money to turn all my books into musicals starring Selena Gomez and Zac Efron, I’d just take the money and run! In the end, the public aren’t dumb enough to think that it’s a shit film because the book it was based on was shit. If they hate it you say “well obviously, I had nothing to do with it”….if they love it you say “well you would, it was based on my book”….then you go and count your money….
Did you always intend on writing a sequel to Slugs – will there ever be a third?
When I was first invited to write Slugs I was told “five years later you’ll do the sequel and then five books after that the third one”….I did a sequel of course with Breeding Ground but I think it’s extremely unlikely there’ll ever be a third, which is a pity because the material is there and I honestly think people would want to read it. The horror genre is so fucking sanitised and ‘nice’ I think real horror readers are crying out for this kind of stuff but it seems to me, some publishers couldn’t give a fuck about the readers.
You like your books to give people good scares. Which has given people the most nightmares?
Well, romance novelists like their novels to make people cry or whatever romance novels are supposed to do. Thriller writers like their readers to be thrilled and chick-lit writers like to write the same story over and over again with just a different title so yes, as a horror writer I like to horrify… It’s hard to quantify which has scared people the most but I’d say that Spawn and Relics were close to the top of the list because of the amount of mail I got telling me that! Certain scenes in certain books seem to cause nightmares too. The end of Renegades, a torture scene in Necessary Evil and the whole premise behind Epitaph spring to mind.
Is the veteran character of Sean Doyle based on yourself?
Veteran? Bloody cheek… I think it was when I wrote it. There are certain similarities between all central characters and their creator, you just can’t help that, but Doyle was always my own favourite and I suppose his descent over the years has mirrored mine. I’d love to write another book with him in and I know readers would love to read it. He is such an ‘honest’ character. He says what he thinks, he does what he has to do (a bit like a Western character I suppose) and he doesn’t really give a fuck who gets in his way. He’s probably not PC enough these days; maybe I should give him a job working for some local council somewhere…
I was joking when I said the sequel to Bastards would be called Fucking Bastards… it would of course have been called Cunts.
I thought the title Bastards would have suited Renegades down to the ground. I also tried calling Exit Wounds by the same title (but the publishers said no). In fact, I’ve probably tried calling nearly everything I’ve written Bastards at one time or another (other than the kids’ books). I know there was a non-fiction book out around the same time as Renegades called Hard Bastards but the publishers said that was acceptable because it was non-fiction! No, I don’t know why either… so, my next non-fiction book will be called Fucking Shit Eating Bastard Cunts; that should cover it…
In your novel Spawn, you speak of child abortion and the burning of the foetuses. Did the moral implications of this storyline have an effect on how your book was sold to your female readers?
Simple as that. The moral implications of the book were never even considered (and quite rightly). Spawn was a work of entertainment, it was never meant to challenge people’s ideas, to make them examine their attitudes towards abortion or anything like that. Just like Renegades was never meant to challenge people’s perception of the IRA, just like Last Rites was never meant to challenge people’s attitude to sex or compulsion or their views on old people! Spawn was meant from the beginning to be a horror book that scared the shit out of whoever read it. If anyone wants to examine the moral implications of a book that contains scenes of abortion and the disposal of foetuses then that’s up to them. I never intended them to react that way. I don’t do ‘message’ novels, and I think most people will realize that by now. As the film director John Ford used to say, “If you want to send a message call Western Union.” I agree with him…
Spawn has been likened to the classic novel Frankenstein. Is this a fair statement, and why?
It has by some very kind people and I appreciate that. I think it’s fair because both feature creatures resurrected by the forces of nature that go on to seek revenge against their creators (or would be destroyers). Spawn is a very Gothic tale too, even though it’s set in modern times, so I can understand the comparisons (I’m not quite the writer Mary Shelley was but what the hell…). All four of my early books were like updates of classic horror themes. Slugs was the update of the ‘creature feature’ book/film, Spawn of Frankenstein, Erebus of the vampire myth and Shadows of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde… there you go I’m a genius..!
It was a privilege and a pleasure. Hammer films always meant so much to me while I was growing up and they always had that touch of class that other horror films lacked (and still do) so when I got the chance to do Revenge of Frankenstein I jumped at it. The same was true of X The Unknown and Twins of Evil. The thing you have to decide as a ‘noveliser’ is how much of your own style you want to bring to the book. I just wanted to present in book form what Hammer had done so brilliantly on film. I certainly didn’t intend ‘re-imagining’ the bloody thing. I wouldn’t have been so presumptuous. Any author who thinks he can do better than Hammer did it back then is a twat! How’s that for a reasoned literary argument. Of course scenes had to be added and characters and situations fleshed out more but that was great to do, trying to keep within the framework of what Hammer would do. I loved every moment of it and I wish they were doing more. I’d love to have had a crack at Brides of Dracula, Frankenstein Created Woman and Plague of the Zombies in particular.
With more than thirty novels under your belt, how do you manage to keep the ideas flowing?
I don’t! When I started it was easy, the ideas just poured out but now, every day is like pulling fucking teeth! Also, publishers have changed so much; the entire publishing industry has and for the worst. Years ago authors would be given a few books to establish themselves; they’d be nurtured by editors but not anymore. Unless you’re a really big name of course you’ve got no chance. And the readers’ tastes are not even a part of the equation it seems. There are only a handful of small independent publishers helping new authors now, taking a chance, the big houses don’t want to take any risks, at least it seems to me.
Your writing has covered most genres, from horror to western. So what can we expect next?
Westerns, war novels, kids’ books, non-fiction… yes. I’ve done lots of genres and enjoyed them all. I used to write whatever was needed. I remember being asked to write the Westerns, being asked to write a novel about the Falklands war, about UFOs and of course, about a nutcase with a chainsaw. I’d do anything if the money was right now! I used to do it because I loved it and the ideas were good and I knew they were going to be promoted. These days you just write what you want, hope someone wants it and cross your fingers you find an editor over 23 (because all the young ones think their mission is to find something ‘edgy’, they don’t realize that traditional stuff is still wanted by so many) and if anyone thinks I’m starting to sound bitter I’m not, I’m just telling you how it is.
Do you still listen to Iron Maiden and incorporate their lyrics into your work?
I’ll always love Iron Maiden and if there is a lyric that fits the book I’m doing, then it will go in…
DAVID OWAIN HUGHES
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